Improving police prevention of severe family violence using structured risk assessment and management

A/Prof. Troy McEwan1, Dr Benjamin Spivak1

1Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology and Forensicare, , Australia

Family homicides account for almost half of all homicides in Australia. It is clear that in many cases police are aware of a pattern of family violence prior to the homicide, but either do not recognise the risk, or are unable to prevent the escalation in violence. This has led to legitimate questions about the efficacy of police risk assessment and management of family violence, and calls for improvement from the recent Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence. However, trying to improve practice by predicting which cases will end in homicide is virtually impossible due to how infrequently homicides occur. A more fruitful approach is to treat family violence-related homicide as a public health problem. This involves identifying and intervening with everyone who is assessed as being at increased risk of physical family violence, thus reducing the overall risk of family-violence related homicide. This presentation will provide initial results of a large study that implemented this approach to policing of family violence with the aim of reducing severe family violence recidivism (that involving physical violence). Over 12 months in 2016/17, front-line and specialist police in two Victoria Police Divisions in metropolitan Melbourne used a combination of actuarial and structured risk assessment to triage family violence incidents for additional risk management. Cases assessed as being at high risk of physical violence received targeted risk management from specialist police family violence teams. Family violence recidivism in each case was followed up 8 to 22 months later using police databases. Results available at time of submission suggest that, among cases assessed as being at higher risk of future physical violence, severe family violence recidivism reduced by approximately 45% over the course of the trial. Possible reasons for this reduction and the role of targeted police risk management strategies will be discussed.


Assoc. Prof. McEwan is a senior clinical and forensic psychologist at Forensicare in Melbourne, and an academic with a particular interest in the effective assessment, treatment and management of complex criminal behaviours such as stalking, family violence and firesetting. In addition to more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, she has authored three risk assessment instruments for stalking and family violence that are used by police, mental health and related agencies in Australia and internationally. Assoc. Prof. McEwan has previously been the President of the Victorian branch of ANZAPPL and will be President of the transnational committee from 2019.